The sidewalk on Cony Road in Augusta ends at New England Road, about 150 yards from the site of a one-car crash that killed three pedestrians on May 20. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The section of Cony Road where three pedestrians were struck and killed by a motorist while walking alongside the road recently could have a sidewalk project ready for construction on it in about a year.

City councilors spoke in favor of adding a sidewalk to the roughly 1,300-foot-long section of Cony Road, between New England Road where a sidewalk that starts at Eastern Avenue ends, to Piggery Road. It was a discussion prompted by the tragic deaths on May 20 of local residents Barbara Maxim-Hendsbee, 69; her 1-year-old granddaughter, Vada-Leigh Peaslee; and Rosalyn Jean, 62.

“We certainly, as a community, want to do everything we can to avoid this ever happening again,” said Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud.

City Manager William Bridgeo committed Thursday to include $30,000 to $40,000 in funding in the first year of the city’s capital improvement plan for design and engineering work, and whatever amount of money is determined it would cost to build a sidewalk there in the following construction season.

“So hopefully, in about a year’s time, we’d have a construction project to address this circumstance,” Bridgeo said.

City officials Thursday said while the terrible accident is what is drawing attention to the need for a sidewalk at that location, that part of Cony Road is used as part of a loop by many area residents for exercise. It is also used by kids, including those at a nearby large apartment complex on New England Road, to get to the sports fields complex on Piggery Road.

Bridgeo, who lives nearby, said he and his wife Janice have regularly exercised on a loop including that section of Cony Road, looping around Eastern Avenue, Cony Road, Piggery Road, Hospital Street and back. He said since the accident, his wife says she isn’t going to take that route anymore.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said he asked for the sidewalk proposal to be placed on the council agenda due to the tragedy but also after talking with neighbors in the area.

“It became readily apparent that with the expansion of the athletic fields along the Piggery Road and such, and the neighborhood expansions in there, that a lot of people have started using this area as a walking, biking, jogging route,” he said. “The road is a country road, it’s narrow, the shoulders are extremely narrow and you can see a very well-worn path, from the entrance to the Piggery Road back heading toward Eastern Avenue. And goodness that path where people have been walking is no more than a foot wide.

“I’m not saying that having a sidewalk there would have prevented anything that happened at all,” Judkins added. “But it certainly has shined a light on the hazard that is there.”

City Engineer Tyler Pease said a sidewalk could be built there for between $150,000 and $200,000.

The sidewalk, at least under the construction option city officials indicated support for Thursday, would be on the opposite side of an existing, roadside drainage ditch from the road, providing distance and potentially an extra, natural barrier between pedestrians using the sidewalk and the cars and trucks using the road.

Augusta police are still working to determine the cause of the crash. But an accident report states the three pedestrians were walking off the roadway in a gravel area, and were not in the road itself. The accident report also says the driver of the car involved, Robert Santerre, 56, of Chelsea, said he fell asleep while driving.

Bridgeo said it might make sense to also consider putting in a sidewalk on the section of Cony Road from Cony Village to Cony Street, which he said is used by Cony High School students, among others.

Councilors also said the city, while addressing the immediate concern raised by the crash, also needs to have a plan to improve pedestrian safety citywide.

Officials said the city has made changes meant to improve pedestrian safety in recent years and has some work being done on others, including a pilot project with the state Department of Transportation looking to improve the visibility of crosswalks downtown.

Public Works Director Lesley Jones said pedestrian safety is at the top of her priority list, but there is only so much money to go around. She said road and sidewalk construction projects have to compete for funding with other city services such as police and fire, and there are many areas that could use improvement, as well as existing sidewalks that could use repair.

Ward 1 City Councilor Linda Conti said she fears that at current funding levels the city won’t make a significant impact on pedestrian safety. She said another area where a sidewalk is desperately needed is from Mount Vernon Avenue to Walmart on Civic Center Drive, where she said people walk to work, all year long, and where there currently is no sidewalk.

“I’d be willing to raise taxes and pay for this,” Conti said of pedestrian safety improvements.

Bridgeo suggested that for now the city follow the proposed $26 million, five-year capital improvement plan he said would be going to councilors soon for approval. He said that includes dozens of items related to improving pedestrian safety. Bridgeo said if councilors want to add projects to that, they may amend it, and they could form a subcommittee to specifically focus on pedestrian safety issues.

In an email to city leaders Kalie Hess and Kirsten Brewer, leaders of Cyclists and Pedestrians Invigorating the Augusta Life, or CAPITAL, a group formed to advocate for pedestrians and bicyclists, expressed support for building sidewalks on Cony Road.

The group also urged the city to follow the recommendation of a pedestrian safety plan developed by the state transportation department and Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

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